November 17, 2013

Review: Old School. Norman Rockwell at the Frist Center

I saw the Norman Rockwell exhibition yesterday. Ninety percent of the work is illustration, (no judgement, just making a call) but there are maybe three or four paintings that reveal his hand as a painter. The wall text claims "Artists Costume Ball" was possibly done in less than an hour. I have my doubts on that, but still.

Nonw of my students had heard of Rockwell. Not surprising. At first glance, his work appears inaccessible contextually. Probably even at second glance. I'm also not a fan of how he lays down paint or numerous other formal concerns, but as a kid, I was fascinated by some of his work from a book my aunt and uncle owned. Coming across the painting in the exhibition, I remembered it was the triple portrait painting that graced the cover of that book that captivated me. 
As a kid, I was a fan of Picasso and Van Gogh and remember digging the fact that Rockwell had their images painted in his painting. Also, wanting to be an artist at an early age, I was a sucker for any painting that showed an artist in their surroundings.  Ironically, I now have a brass pot for my paint rags. 

With the help of wall text, the exhibition does a good job of contextualizing Rockwell's work and his stylistic migrations. It would be easy to dismiss this exhibition as populist and generational, and indeed it's an interesting juxtaposition to 30 Americans downstairs, but it's worth a look. 

I'm also looking forward to reading Deborah Solomon's new book on Rockwell, AMERICAN MIRROR: THE LIFE AND ART OF NORMAN ROCKWELL.

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